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May 30 2013

11:00

Activist Campaign Successfully Targets Facebook's Advertisers

Last week I wrote up the #FBrape campaign's strategy: to hold Facebook accountable for the misogynistic content of its users by pressuring advertisers. Only seven days after the open letter was published, Marne Levine, Facebook's VP of Global Publicy Policy, published a response agreeing to the campaign's demands to better train the company's moderators, improve reporting processes, and hold offending users more accountable for the content they publish.

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The campaigners say they generated 5,000 emails to advertisers, and convinced Nissan to pull its advertising from the platform. This is great initial traction for a social media advocacy campaign, but it represents a miniscule percentage of Facebook's users and advertisers. For people interested in shaping what kinds of speech social media giants allow, the #FBrape campaign quickly confirmed the relative value of targeting companies' revenue sources rather than directly petition the corporations. The #FBrape campaign also had a clear moral high road over the terrible instances of speech it campaigned to censor. But the results are still illuminating, as we struggle to determine how much power companies like Facebook wield over our self expression, and the organizational processes and technical mechanisms of how that power is exterted.

Continued attention will be required to hold Facebook, Inc. to its promises to train its content moderators (and an entire planet of actual users) to flag and remove violent content. Facebook has also promised to establish more direct lines of communication with women's groups organizing against such content. This is the kind of personal relationship and human contact groups have clamored for (see WITNESS and YouTube's relationship).

'fair, thoughtful, scalable'

Technology companies have tended to avoid establishing such relationships, probably because they require relatively large amounts of time in a venture that's taking on an entire planet worth of communications. Facebook itself lists its preferences for solutions to governing speech that are "fair, thoughtful, and scalable." Given the crazy scale of content uploaded every minute, Facebook might look into algorithmic solutions to identify content before users are exposed to it. YouTube has conducted research to automatically categorize some of its own torrent of incoming user content to identify the higher quality material. According to their post, Facebook has "built industry leading technical and human systems to encourage people using Facebook to report violations of our terms and developed sophisticated tools to help our teams evaluate the reports we receive."

This is unlikely to be the last we hear about this. By publishing an official response, Facebook gave 130 media outlets and counting an excuse to cover the campaign, which few had done prior to the company's reply. And whether they relish the position or not, social media companies like Facebook have positioned themselves as arbiters of speech online, subject to the laws of the lands they operate within, but also comfortable codifying their own preferences into their policies. Kudos to Facebook for taking a minute to respond to some of the messy side effects of connecting over a billion human beings.

Matt Stempeck is a Research Assistant at the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab. He has spent his career at the intersection of technology and social change, mostly in Washington, D.C. He has advised numerous non-profits, startups, and socially responsible businesses on online strategy. Matt's interested in location, games, online tools, and other fun things. He's on Twitter @mstem.

This post originally appeared on the MIT Center for Civic Media blog.

May 21 2013

22:02

Two pieces of information

Two pieces of information that came to my attention today:

Firstly, from a piece of research on aspiring journalists in France:

“Students from the least privileged social sectors are more socially committed and more aware of their civic responsibility: These students want “to reveal cases of corruption, show realities that are unknown to the general public, and to do investigative journalism”.

“The students belonging to disadvantaged social classes value the profession of journalism the most, and have a culture of effort and selflessness, which has been inherited from their families. The force lifting the social elevator to access an intellectual profession like journalism is their constant effort. They consider journalism to be a “useful and noble” profession. They have a more romantic and social view of the profession: they want to be a real communication channel for the village people, the forgotten, and the voiceless … However, these students practice self-censorship by not working in recognised and prestigious media, unlike the students from more privileged social classes who do so because they have greater social capital and contacts in the profession of journalism thanks to their families.”

Secondly, from a number of sources on Twitter:

“Independent.co.uk is offering a rare opportunity to an aspiring young journalist. We’re looking for an exceptionally motivated, intelligent and organised undergraduate with a passion for our brand, the world of news, and student life, to come and gain work experience within our Digital team for three months this summer 2013.

“You must be able to work from Monday 17 June through to 30 August 2013. This is work experience, so it is not a paid opportunity, but your travel and lunch expenses will be covered. You will need to provide a letter from your university, confirming that this work experience placement is beneficial and supports your course.”

Over to you.

22:02

Two pieces of information

Two pieces of information that came to my attention today:

Firstly, from a piece of research on aspiring journalists in France:

“Students from the least privileged social sectors are more socially committed and more aware of their civic responsibility: These students want “to reveal cases of corruption, show realities that are unknown to the general public, and to do investigative journalism”.

“The students belonging to disadvantaged social classes value the profession of journalism the most, and have a culture of effort and selflessness, which has been inherited from their families. The force lifting the social elevator to access an intellectual profession like journalism is their constant effort. They consider journalism to be a “useful and noble” profession. They have a more romantic and social view of the profession: they want to be a real communication channel for the village people, the forgotten, and the voiceless … However, these students practice self-censorship by not working in recognised and prestigious media, unlike the students from more privileged social classes who do so because they have greater social capital and contacts in the profession of journalism thanks to their families.”

Secondly, from a number of sources on Twitter:

“Independent.co.uk is offering a rare opportunity to an aspiring young journalist. We’re looking for an exceptionally motivated, intelligent and organised undergraduate with a passion for our brand, the world of news, and student life, to come and gain work experience within our Digital team for three months this summer 2013.

“You must be able to work from Monday 17 June through to 30 August 2013. This is work experience, so it is not a paid opportunity, but your travel and lunch expenses will be covered. You will need to provide a letter from your university, confirming that this work experience placement is beneficial and supports your course.”

Over to you.

January 27 2012

21:30

The Front Line of the U.S. Censorship Battle Is Behind Bars

A longer version of this post first appeared on MIT's Center for Civic Media blog.

In our ongoing quest to trace the outline of the phrase "civic media," we began the Center for Civic Media's 2012 lunch series with Paul Wright, editor and co-founder of Prison Legal News, and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, the non-profit umbrella which publishes PLN.

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PLN operates in a unique media environment, where the very act of distributing a magazine to their customers might first require winning a lawsuit. You see, their primary audience is made up of prisoners themselves. Prison Legal News is the longest-running publication put together with the help of people who are incarcerated, and since its first issue in 1990, it has become a critical resource for discussing issues facing these populations. It's an independent, monthly magazine that reviews and analyzes prisoner rights, court rulings, and news about prison issues. PLN focuses on state and federal U.S. prisons, as well as some international coverage. Paul himself has become a distinguished advocate on behalf of the U.S. population. Asked whether we could blog his talk, Paul responded, "Secrecy is the antithesis of publishing."

From Newsletter to National Publication

Prison Legal News started as a newsletter, in 1990, covering only Washington state's prisons. It was 10 pages and hand-typed for 75 subscribers. It launched into the publishing world with a $50 budget. The organization was completely volunteer-run until 1996. The first run of six issues ended up becoming a 22-year, 224-issue run (and still going). Some of their earliest subscribers are still with them -- a great sign for the publication's longevity, but a less great reflection of these subscribers' sentences.

PLN's perseverance has paid off: In 1990, there were 30 or 40 prisoners' rights news publications, but many have since ceased publishing. Prison Legal News has expanded its coverage as its subscriber base expanded. At one point, they realized they had more subscribers in California than in Washington, and that they had graduated to a national publication. Yet Paul considers himself one of the few people in print publishing these days who welcomes competition. He wishes there were other publications and institutions engaged in this work.

Prison Legal News is not light reading -- there's no horoscope, no advice column, just hard news and information. But that's what their customers want. An annual reader survey draws a 30-40% reader survey response, and the feedback is consistently asking for more useful information rather than lighter fare. There was a publication in the 1990s called "Prison Life," which covered prison life and the prison experience, and they were somehow surprised when they were unsuccessful, because prisoners would rather not read about this in their leisure time.

An expansion into book titles has focused on self-help and non-fiction reference books for prisoners, especially titles that aren't viable for traditional book publishers. Paul mentions books including "How to File a Lawsuit and Win," and books on hepatitis C (a dangerous health threat within the incarcerated population). There's great interest in books on health, including "Our Bodies, Ourselves," which Paul notes has been banned in some prison systems. They also provide "radical critiques of the criminal justice system", including edited volumes titled "The Celling of America," "Prison Nation" and
"Prison Profiteers." Paul notes that the books reach a different audience than the magazine, that there are people who prefer reading the long form of arguments.

Who Reads Prison News?

Prison Legal News is a niche publication. It's not trying to reach the whole incarcerated population of the U.S. It's targeting activists and lifers interested in improving prisons. Paul said they want to reach the activists, the 1% of people who make change. Men are 95% of the U.S. prison population, and make up a higher percentage of PLN's readership compared with women. Paul attributed this to the fact that women generally receive shorter sentences, and their subscribers tend to have long sentences ahead of them. Paul has found that it's the people who are in prison for a long period of time that make things happen. These are the lifers, the ones filing the lawsuits and organizing other prisoners. These are people who have accepted that prison is their life now, and who are working to do something to improve it.

There are around 7,000 subscribers to the print publication, but the reach is much broader. Reader surveys suggest that copies reach more than 10 prisoners each -- Paul estimates a readership of 80,000-90,000 readers. Additionally, the website gets around 100,000 visitors per month. The subscriber base includes judges, court officers, lawyers, journalists and academics, including Noam Chomsky, who Paul told us proudly was one of the first subscribers. All the big investment banks subscribe, Paul told us, because they follow news on the private prison industry. "I was happy when Lehman Brothers went under, but we lost a subscriber," he said. Lehman Brothers had been one of the biggest bankrollers of the private prison industry, so it was a happy day when they went down.

Publication Litigation

A big focus these days is making sure the target audience in prisons can actually receive the magazine. This requires extensive litigation. Prison Legal News has obtained consent decrees in nine states, ordering state prisons to deliver the magazine. PLN is currently litigating in New York and Florida to enable subscribers to receive their publication, both the magazine and the books they publish.

Almost every state's prison system has censored and banned the magazine at one point or another, Paul told us. The organization has won nine lawsuits, receiving consent decrees that order state prison systems to deliver the publications. The bans are generally pretextual. They're bans based on postal rates used to deliver magazines, or whether prisoners are allowed to pay for the magazine from their trust accounts. Sometimes there are arbitrary blocks on sending publications to prisoners in certain types of custody. In Washington, PLN discovered they needed to become an "approved vendor" and had a very difficult time figuring out "who's brother-in-law we had to work with" to gain "approved vendor" status, Paul said.

It's not just PLN getting banned. In one case, in South Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union had to sue when a prison banned all books except the Bible. These pretextual excuses can get pretty absurd -- Paul is currently facing an argument that the staples used to bind the magazine might be used as dangerous weapons. While we think it's funny, these are the issues PLN is forced to litigate (marshal the resources to sue the government, and win). "Think of every magazine held together by staples, delivered by mail. TIME, Newsweek. We're the only publisher in America who routinely challenges this censorship," he said.

Many of these rules are designed to prevent prisoners from having material to read, far beyond PLN's magazine. It would help if other American publishers would join in the fight to ensure publications are able to reach prison populations. When an Indiana judge upheld a ban on gay publications "Out" and "The Advocate," Paul asked the publishers to file suit, because it would stand up better in court than a suit from a prisoner. But publishers aren't seeking the prison population. "They tell us that they're not part of our targeted advertising demographic," he said. For PLN, the core audience is prisoners, and there's no point in publishing if the core audience can't get it. In recognition of this, they realized that funding staff attorney positions was a priority.

I noted that some critics of PLN have argued that it's as much a litigation platform as it is a publication. Paul countered that "our initial goal was always just to publish the magazine. But we got to to the point where we're just consuming ever greater amounts of organizational resources just getting the magazine into prisons." Paul estimated that he can spend as much as 40% of his time focusing on being able to distribute the publication, rather than producing and editing it. "The editor should be worried about being (an) editor, not worrying about why one prison system or another is censoring content," he said. For there to be any litigation, the government has to illegally censor the magazine, then PLN has to sue, and then they have to win. "If you don't like the consequences, don't break the law," Paul said.

Isolation from Society

Restrictions on what can be sent in and out of prison harm PLN in another way: It makes it very hard to hear from the incarcerated. In some prisons, prisoners can no longer send or receive information beyond what fits on a postcard. Other layers of draconian restriction include rules that postcard communication has to be in ink, can't use a label, etc. These mechanisms tend to be arbitrary and are designed, Paul argued, to prevent prisoners from having communication to and from the outside world. His organization has challenged a couple of these successfully, with a couple more pending. Paul told us that they are trying to nip this trend in the bud before it gets entrenched.

"Part of the goal is to get prisoners information. But conversely, we want to hear from them," he said. The bulk of the magazine's content is provided by contributing writers, who are mostly prisoners, some of whom have been working with PLN for over a decade. In the hopes of ensuring widespread distribution of the information, PLN doesn't demand exclusive publishing rights -- and people are free to copy and disseminate the information.

This is an area of close overlap with one of the Center for Civic Media's projects, "Between the Bars." BTB is a blogging platform for prisoners that gets around the lack of Internet access by scanning and publishing letters to a blog, and then mailing comments back to the authors on postcards. In addition to helping the incarcerated publish to the web, it helps the rest of the U.S. population by ensuring that we are able to hear from these voices, who comprise 1% of our entire populace.

Prison News Online

The Internet has greatly improved the visibility of Prison Legal News. Paul told us he conducts 3-4 interviews a week about the publication and the issues it raises. He's fluent in Spanish and noted that there's a great deal of interest in these issues from programs in Colombia and Venezuela. One of his associate gives interviews in Russian media, which seems to have an endless appetite for stories about the U.S. prison system. Some have observed that the U.S. prison system must be pretty bad when the Russians enjoy making fun of it.

The online presence of the magazine has allowed PLN to build a publication library online, with more than 6,000 documents available in its Brief Bank. "We've got the biggest, and I would say, the best, repository of prison documents online," Paul said. As a result, PLN generally shows up in Google's first page for prison-related queries, except sometimes when the "Prison Break" program is on TV.

At the same time, few prisoners have access to the web from their cell. Six prison systems allowed web access in 1990, but by 2000, that number was zero. Paul noted that not one of the prisoners who took part in a program to learn to use computers receded.

Prisons can be a bit of a timeless place, said Paul, where the equipment you see is 50-60 years old. PLN's print publishing business still thrives here (advertising levels for the print magazine are actually going up), and web publishing is almost nonexistent. PLN hasn't figured out how to make money online, like other publishers. Its content performs poorly with online advertising. On the site, the news content is free, legal content is paid, and these fees cover basic staff time put into the site. Advertising and subscription income and book distribution bring in about the same amount. Payroll is the biggest expense. They get some foundation funding and donations, and when all of this revenue is cobbled together, it's enough to move forward.

Staying Human

The acts of reading and writing are core to helping prisoners maintain their humanity, especially when everything else in these punitive systems is working to degrade that humanity. A publication like PLN lets prisoners connect with others, when the rest of the system is designed to isolate and alienate.

Paul is wary of the dehumanization that takes place before genocides and in prisons. We lose sight of the people in prison. We need to keep in mind that they're someone's father, someone's son, regardless of what they've done. When someone's been murdered in a prison, it's almost always that person's mother who calls PLN.

Paul closed his presentation by noting that he's now 264 issues into this project, and that since 1990, "everything to do with the criminal justice system, by objective or subjective standard, has gotten worse."

This post was written with Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT. For more information about PLN, see their Frequently Asked Questions and get in touch.

December 31 2011

20:00

Keli Goff: 2012 will be a golden age of minority-focused media

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Keli Goff, author, political commentator, and contributing editor at Loop21.com.

Though the last few years in media have been described in doomsday terms, we will likely look back on this time, and particularly the coming year, as the golden age of minority-focused media.

While mainstream media institutions have struggled to stay relevant and stay afloat, in their demise many of the walls that kept the less connected and less privileged out of media have begun to fall. There are many who would argue that those walls were essential to keeping media credible and honest. I would argue that those walls kept many diverse voices, in terms of both race and class, from being heard by wider audiences.

But thanks to the end of the reign of mainstream print media as the defining journalistic institution, the rise of the Internet as the predominant source of news and information, and the proliferation of blogs, more voices that would not have been widely read or heard just years ago are helping to define mainstream conversations.

The election of President Obama only increased the role that online minority media vehicles such as The Root, The Grio, NewsOne, Loop21.com, BET Online, Huffington Post Black Voices, and others have played in reaching audiences that for a long time felt ignored by mainstream outlets. With another presidential election looming, these outlets will continue to grow in both audience and relevance, and we will see more of them, as well as more focus on them, in 2012.

June 14 2011

18:10

Create or Die 2: Boosting Coverage of Underserved Communities

The Greensboro 52. That's the label a group of journalists, students, educators and community members adopted during the Create or Die 2 conference in Greensboro, N.C., which took place June 2 to 5.

The label takes its inspiration from the Greensboro Four, African-American students at N.C. A&T University who sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth's in 1960. Others joined them, launching a sit-in movement for civil rights across the South.

The Create or Die 2 participants hope to be just as viral.

The first Create or Die gathering was held in Detroit in 2010. The project, part of Journalism That Matters, describes itself as a collaboration supporting new creators of news and information.

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Bill Densmore, director of the Media Giraffe project at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said at the end of Create or Die 2 that the event inspired the upholding and spreading of traditional journalism ethics and values, "by any means necessary."

If that means spreading the standards of investigative journalism through hip-hop and biofueled buses, so be it, said participants at the conference, which took place at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

An Unconference

Actually, the "conference" was designed as a structured unconference, with attention paid to things like seating arrangements and story-sharing to build trust and interaction, within a schedule that allows for concrete idea pitches and tours of the community. Journalism was loosely defined, or perhaps redefined, to include mission-driven efforts and storytelling in a broad sense across various platforms.

Peggy Holman, co-founder of Journalism That Matters, and Michelle Ferrier, associate professor at Elon University, were primary organizers, holding weekly calls with volunteers and building an online community before the event.

Holman has been organizing Journalism That Matters programs for years, and Ferrier brought the gathering to Greensboro, to take inspiration from the International Civil Rights Center and Museum and build ties and journalism capacity in the state.

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$500 Grants

Three incubators in the center of North Carolina offered support for startups emerging from the conference. Sponsors also offered $500 grants to groups who pitched ideas at the gathering.

Homewood Nation won a $500 grant for efforts to build online and offline community in a challenged neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Two other $500 grants were combined and went to a creative, diverse group that formed at the gathering.

Members were mostly young, scattered from Los Angeles to Charlotte. They shared ideas, backgrounds and skills at the conference and made plans to launch a new website aimed at letting people claim and control their online IDs.

Create or Die has plans for a biofuel bus tour to spread the word of the project to underserved communities across the country.

Hashtag Still Going Strong

A week out, the conference's impromptu hashtag, #g52, was still going strong on Twitter.

Holman, one of the organizers, reflected on the spirit of the conference in an email afterward.

"If we want to create a more multi-cultural view of the news that is reflective of our changing demographics, we need to shift the mix of providers from the 85 percent of white mainstream journalists that exists today," she wrote. "Yet less than 10 percent of foundation funding is going to people doing online news and information in underserved communities. That's a reason for a wakeup call."

And Ferrier said in an email that the conference isn't really over.

"The gathering is still unfolding," she wrote.


Andria Krewson is a community news editor for The Charlotte Observer and has written about hyper-local journalism for PBS Mediashift. Reach her through http://andriakrewson.com

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May 19 2011

16:21

MIT Sessions Address Prison Blogging, Networked Revolt in Arab World

MIT's Center for Future Civic Media redoubled its public events efforts this past year, thanks to a push by its fellow Ethan Zuckerman. Zuckerman brings a unique perspective -- a civic one -- to media developments so often dominated by politics and business-model debates.

This approach couldn't be more evident than in the case of two recent Civic Media Sessions, videos of which you'll see below. Our sessions, spread throughout the semester, are conversations around civic media topics we're just now defining, including the coalescing of the field itself around information needs, geographic communities, and replicable, sustainable technical innovation.

"Design for Vulnerable Populations" was a session we held last month, and it addressed the fact that designers of new media -- web-based or otherwise -- seem to have in mind an idealized user, someone who's hungry for news, is digitally connected, and feels one technical solution shy of changing the world.

Sadly, that idealized user hardly exists outside of the New York Times' "Weekender" ad. In fact, civic media innovations, to be truly civic, have to work for the marginalized, poor, the ill -- even for the imprisoned. So "Design for Vulnerable Populations" was moderated by our center's own Charlie DeTar, creator of the prison blogging platform Between the Bars, and featured speakers critiquing how we bring environmental justice, health and sustainability into the design of cutting-edge media tools.

Design for Vulnerable Populations
MIT Tech TV

And then earlier this month, Zuckerman moderated "Civic Disobedience," with Clay Shirky, Zeynep Tufekci and Sami ben Gharbia. Zuckerman addressed a key set of questions: What accounts for the rise of networked revolt in the Arab world and elsewhere, and how is it succeeding in some places while failing in others?

Civic Disobedience
MIT Tech TV

We're awfully proud of the intelligence brought to bear on these often-overlooked but critical issues. So as this spring semester wraps up, be sure to sign up for our center's updates to hear what we're planning for the fall.

April 20 2011

15:33

Designing a Newsgame Is an Act of Journalism

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A common thread woven through our various projects in the Newsgames research group has been our subscription to the tenets of journalism. Our first endeavor was not related to games at all. We bought a stack of copies of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel's "The Elements of Journalism" book and immersed ourselves in not just the business of news but rather the practice of news. Sure, we could have seen videogames as a way to add exciting features that would draw readers to websites -- and if we were an Internet startup, we probably would have -- but as members of an academic institution our inclination was to understand how videogames can do journalistic work.

As we've described before on the Idea Lab and wrote about extensively in our book Newsgames: Journalism at Play, videogames are valuable for journalism because they don't just describe -- they demonstrate. Written stories and filmed television segments tend to focus on the who, what, where, and when of a story. It's easy for readers and viewers to identify with these questions that position an event in the world. These questions quickly satisfy the appetite for immediacy in the 24-hour news cycle. The how and why of these stories, on the other hand, can be pushed aside either temporarily or permanently. Reporting that merely makes citizens aware of an event doesn't seem to merit answers to these inquiries.

The How and Why

Games, on the other hand, are nothing without answers to how and why.

'How' governs programming the game on the designer's end or interpreting the game on the player's end. If someone wants to make a game about air traffic safety they need to understand the mechanisms by which air traffic controllers manage the take-off and landing of planes. If someone then wants to deftly play as an air traffic controller, they need to understand those same mechanisms as portrayed by the game's designer. 'How' lets you understand the system.

'Why' can either be a rhetorical position taken by the designer that informs their creation or it can be how the player understands the ways that the pieces in the system interact. Food Import Folly demonstrates the difficulties of container inspection at understaffed shipping ports. Here's a screenshot from that game:

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So if E. coli contaminated spinach was introduced into the country by a missed inspection, it's clearly demonstrable that more port authority inspection agents might have prevented the spread of this bacteria.

Bringing in a Journalist's Expertise

Short newsgames can't simulate all of the conditions that may have given rise to an event, though. So what we play are not faithful recreations of the world in all its messy detail, but rather models that use the most relevant information to govern their functions. And here's where the professional journalist's expertise comes into play.

Let's think about three kinds of news stories: a written article, an edited television segment, and a programmed game. The three primary acts of creating each are gathering the data, selecting and assembling the relevant information, and producing the final output.

The first two are journalistic tasks. They require the author understand the situation at hand and the desires of their constituency. Journalists synthesize the world into manageable chunks of visual and verbal models. But writing, editing, and programming? These aren't journalistic tasks. Sure, they're required to concretize information -- and a well edited segment on the evening news is going to be more compelling than a series of loosely joined clips. But The Onion demonstrates on a daily basis that it's entirely possible to have output that merely looks like news.

Designing a newsgame is not just about recounting the events of the day as a series of videogame tropes, nor is it about loading up a spoonful of sugar to make being aware of events of the day fun and more palatable. Designing a newsgame is about forming a model and executing on it to help people better understand a situation.

A Game About Diversity of Groceries

Last Spring, during the transition between our initial newsgames inquiry and our current Cartoonist project, a small team of us worked on a newsgame design exercise. The topic was the Buford Highway Farmers Market, an international grocery store located a few miles north of downtown Atlanta. A story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution described the changing ethnic composition of the store's products. The diversity of the groceries represented the diversity of the foreign populations who had moved to the area in the past few decades: melting pot (or salad bowl or bouillabaisse or your other favorite analogy) personified.

We wanted to design a game that embodied the foreign population composition as a grocery store. It was a click-management game about meeting the needs of an ethnically diverse shopping population. Presented with data about population trends, the player would first buy their stock with demographics in mind and then help their shoppers find ingredients for specified dishes. In the process of playing, the players learns about the dish that is the ever-shifting local ingredients of their city flavored by all the seasonings of this extended culinary metaphor.

Concept solidified, we sought out data. Delving into the yellowed pages of United States census data pulled from a dusty library shelf, we recorded the number of foreign born or mixed-parentage individuals as a percentage of a total urban population throughout the 20th century. But the process was, unsurprisingly, not that straightforward. Different cities recorded data differently. It was not until 1960 that Seattle differentiated the many countries of Southeast Asia into their own categories. Country of origin was not recorded in any of the southern states until 1960.

Accounting for Data Gaps

So how do you make a game that accounts for giant gaps in the data? If all you wanted to do was make a game, then you could just make up the numbers and be on your merry way. But as a journalist you don't have the luxury of making stuff up. Nor do you have the luxury of just ignoring the messiness. If you were writing a story, you could conceivably leave out the paragraph and the article would continue on. Designing a game, on the other hand, requires a whole model or else the whole thing breaks. You have to account for it somehow because it governs how the system functions. So you either transparently demonstrate the gaps or you modify the game to be about the data.

When working on the grocery store game we started with a story we thought we understood -- a kind of puff piece that would easily turn into the click management game we wanted to make. But, in the process of doing research and trying to synthesize the data into something playable, we learned about the complexities of the census and were forced to incorporate this into our design.

Had the game gone into production, the result would have hopefully been a demonstration of not just the changing local population, but the recording of that population. Further research could have even delved into alternative sources of data that might have more accurately recorded the ethnic makeup.

One thing was clear, though. Creating an accurate model for a newsgames -- the rules and processes that demonstrate how that system works -- requires subscribing to principles of journalism as well. Drawing from Kovach and Rosenstiel, newsgame design should be truthful and transparent, strive to make the significant interesting and relevant, and subject to verification. So long as they're accomplishing this, they can fit into the rest of the ecosystem of journalism.

March 08 2011

20:44

Why Are Hispanics Missing in Leadership at Media Companies?

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Fifty million people. One trillion dollars in buying power. Ad spending up 164% since 2001 to $3.88 billion. Hundreds of Spanish-language TV stations across the U.S.

Those eye-catching numbers represent the immense, and largely untapped, scale and wealth of the Hispanic-American media market. Put into greater perspective, if Hispanic-Americans comprised their own country, it would be the fifth-largest, by population, in the European Union. And this demographic is growing -- rapidly.

Despite these figures, one component is still missing in the media industry's quest for greater diversity: Hispanic leadership in the executive suite at media companies.

As a Hispanic-American executive, who also happens to be female, I have seen first-hand the immense growth and impact diversity is having on the American economy and culture. Media executives, marketers, communicators, lawmakers and all of America are hurtling into an era where the business and marketing of diversity -- particularly the Hispanic-American market -- will be at the forefront of the American conscience.

Where Are The Hispanic Execs?

And yet a wide divide still exists between this reality and the promise for greater diversity in the ranks of media, PR, and ad agencies' senior management.

"The future of our nation depends on what happens in [the Hispanic-American] population, a segment of Americans that have not always gotten the opportunities," they deserve, said Manny Ruiz, founder of Hispanic PR Wire and Hispanicize.com, in a recent PRNewser interview.

This lack of opportunity has led to Hispanic-Americans being underrepresented in corporate boardrooms. According to the 2009 Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility Corporate Inclusion Index survey, only 4.8 percent of all Fortune 100 executive- and director-level positions are held by Hispanics. Similarly, Hispanics account for only 6 percent of representatives on Fortune 100 boards.

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It took my own professional organization, the Public Relations Society of America, 48 years before Luis Morales became its first Hispanic president in 1996. Fifteen years later, I'm the first Latina to serve as chair and CEO.

My question is: Why was there a gap in years for the PRSA to select another Hispanic leader? I also wonder, why aren't there more Hispanic-Americans, whom I know are succeeding in the business world, stepping forward to executive and board positions across the media and PR industries?

More Questions Than Answers

Is it an issue of being the "token"? Nearly 20 years ago, I remember looking around the boardroom and finding that, not only was I the only woman in the room, I also looked different from everyone else. Feeling like "the only one" didn't stop me from finding common ground with my colleagues, and it shouldn't be an impediment for greater diversity within media's C-suite.

Is it an issue of language? Many times, people assume that all Hispanic-Americans speak Spanish and prefer Spanish. That is as much a myth as is Spanish fluency for those who do speak Spanish. There are Hispanics, like me, who are just as comfortable communicating in Spanish or English because of our bi-lingual fluency. But, there are just as many who are only truly comfortable in one language -- English.

Is it cultural? Business development and growth is part of the Hispanic-American spirit. Our culture thrives on entrepreneurship. Hispanics aren't fond of sticking to the "way things have always been." We're living proof that change is the only constant; thus we prefer acculturation instead of assimilation.

Slow Progress

I'll admit, the level of diversity within public relations has progressed significantly in recent years. For example, 14 percent of PRSA members are self-described "diverse;" that's an increase from 7 percent in 2005.

But we still have quite a ways to go in order to meet the global business community's diverse communications and marketing challenges.

Playing a leading role in conversation development across societal, economic and ethnic variances has always been one of PR's strongest areas of focus. A key factor in continuing a surge in value will be the industry's ability to generate two-way, conversation-themed strategies. And this can only come from the inclusion of non-traditional hires, such as bloggers, social-media influencers and analysts that come from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Diversity is Worth Trillions

It's quite simple, really: Diversity within PR will be crucial to agencies' success in years to come, as businesses continue seeking a more global perspective to their communications.

That means it is the responsibility of the PR industry -- along with the media companies that use our services -- to place an immediate focus on the business value of diversity and a diverse boardroom. Businesses must be prepared to tap into burgeoning and increasingly diverse markets for new revenue and growth. And having a more diverse executive suite, which reflects the modern ethnic makeup of the U.S., will better prepare the media industry to reap the immense financial rewards of a modern and very diverse America.

In today's stagnant economy, can any media company -- and the PR and marketing firms working within that sector -- afford to go without the diverse leadership that could help it tap into a $1 trillion market? Not likely.

(A tip of the hat to Julian McBride, whose excellent MediaShift post on fixing the tech PR industry's diversity issues inspired this post.)

Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, is chair and chief executive officer of the PRSA. She is also director of the Global Strategic Communications master's program in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University in Miami. With more than 20 years of experience, Fiske began her career as a journalist, and then moved to marketing and corporate communications. She has held senior communications counsel, marketing and management positions in agency and corporate settings.

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February 23 2011

19:06

How to Fix the Tech PR Industry's Diversity Deficit

PBS.org has recently been home to some frank and thoughtful discussions about an overlooked issue: the lack of racial diversity in the media.

For those who may have missed it, the dialogue was sparked by Retha Hill in an Idea Lab post about the lack of minorities at new media conferences. Mark Glaser expanded the conversation from the comments section to a wider audience on Twitter with a MediaShift #mediadiversity chat. And Hill has followed up with a post on the need for media innovation in minority communities.

All this got me thinking about my particular media niche: technology public relations. What's so special about tech PR? Well, for those loosely familiar with the PR sector, imagine it as music. Entertainment, fashion, beauty and sports PR are akin to pop music.

Tech PR is more like opera. It requires a slightly different set of skills and media approaches. How many people of color in opera can music-lovers name? Aside from the great Kathleen Battle, not many come to mind. Unfortunately, this dilemma also rings true for tech PR. Persons of color are an untapped market that many PR agencies have not yet explored. Looking back at my six years in PR, I can count the number of brown colleagues I've worked with on less than two hands.

Why are minorities -- especially those of black and Latino descent -- largely missing from the tech media landscape? Inspired by this new-found dialogue on diversity in media, I want to talk about my career as a publicist representing and working with digital media and technology companies and offer some suggestions for remedying the tech PR industry's diversity deficit.

How I got here

When I was about 12 years old, I accompanied my father, who is a professor, to a wrap party for a film project where he served as an academic advisor. At the celebration, I remember one of the producers telling me that I'd be "good at PR" when I grew up. Back then, I didn't know what the producer meant. But that seed of advice remained in the back of my mind as I graduated from Rutgers College (part of Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey), studied and lived abroad in Europe and Brazil, and completed a master's program in marketing from the Bristol Business School in Bristol, England.

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Upon finishing my master's program, I gravitated back to where my friends and family are from -- New York City, the so-called Silicon Alley of innovation -- and sought to finally discover what this PR thing was all about. Within a few months of my arrival, I landed an entry-level position within the technology practice of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR. It was there that I met my mentor, Ana Cano Nennig, a female of Mexican-American descent. With her encouragement and guidance, I have navigated my way through the close-knit and competitive world of tech PR, representing some of the most innovative and respected companies -- from startups to established brands -- that are advancing the tech and digital media industries.

As Nennig evidences, I'm not the only person of color to succeed in PR. Minorities, especially African-Americans, have done well in sub-sectors of PR such as entertainment and sports where persons of color have played starring roles. This history stretches as far back as 1957, when the United Artists movie studio A.S. "Doc" Young to publicize an interracial love story, "Kings Go Forth."

New opportunities for Tech PR

When it comes to persons of color in technology and digital media PR, history may still be in the making. And, considering that minorities have led the way for technology adoption and innovation, I think a larger role for minorities is manifest destiny.

Take social networks and mobile technology, for example. New media and technology are widely embraced and used by minorities. According to a Pew Internet report [PDF file], 18 percent of Latinos and 13 percent of black adults who are online use Twitter; that's significantly greater than the five percent of white Internet users who tweet. Blacks and English-speaking Latinos were found to be more likely to use the various smartphone features such as web surfing and mobile shopping, according to Pew.

Given this history of early technology adoption and today's rising dialogue about minorities working in media and technology, I'm excited about what's in store. Smart business strategists hoping to increase their multicultural market share would do well to get on board.

How to promote diversity

In addition to continuing the dialogue of #mediadiversity, I want to include a few constructive ways to address the shortage of minorities within tech PR.

  • Weave diversity into everything you do. This is particularly crucial for PR agencies. One way to do that is by actively recruiting qualified minority talent, leaders, and mentors.
  • Create programs to help tell and preserve minorities' history in communications, as well as revitalize the role minorities play in the broader field of marketing communications. PR agencies can create an award or scholarship program to achieve this.
  • Educate minority youth on the opportunities in tech PR by partnering with minority communications professionals, entrepreneurs, journalists, and related organizations.

The reason I enjoy what I do is because of what technology and media represent: advancement and innovation.

In order for the industry to live up to the ideals it represents, diversity needs to be realized not just at the consumer level but at the corporate level as well. More personal dialogue should be encouraged regarding what it's like to be a minority in this industry.

But more importantly, action is required by the leaders driving the PR industry. PR agencies that serve technology and digital media companies should encourage diversity in both personnel team-building and marketing initiatives for clients.

Such steps will help to create stronger and more creative technologies and media that are reflective of our nation's and world's undeniable diversity.

Julian is an account supervisor at the Horn Group, where he has worked since November 2009 to executing PR strategy and manage media and analyst relations for marquee clients. Julian has regularly secured national feature placements for clients in Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Adweek, GigaOm and Computerworld, among many other mainstream business, advertising, and technology publications. He is a martial artist and comes from a family of writers, including his father Dr. David McBride, a widely-known educator and researcher at Penn State University and his uncle James McBride, who chronicled their family in the New York Times and the international best-selling memoir "The Color of Water."

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February 11 2011

15:24

People of Color Must Innovate or Die in Digital Media

In December in this space I asked about the lack of minorities at new media conferences -- both as participants and as speakers. The blog post generated a lot of comments; a Twitter discussion, and the start of a list of wonderful experts -- all persons of color -- who can help make your next new media conference a success.

I heard privately from a dozen or so white digital media leaders who confessed that they often wondered why new media seemed to be getting off on the wrong foot when it comes to diversifying staffs at operations and speakers at conferences. And I heard from conference organizers who reported that they were redoubling their efforts to reach out to a more inclusive group.

Tiffany Shackelford, who was putting on a conference for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, for example, invited me to do the kickoff session on mobile at their digital conference in San Francisco at the end of January and had a very inclusive group of speakers over the weekend talkfest. The Online News Association reached out for that list that some of us put together back in 2009 and I am sure that the ONA's Boston conference this year will reflect America.

It is great to know that once presented with the problem and a solution -- like here is a list -- that people will try to do the right thing. But, of course, there is still much more work to be done in two areas: hiring at digital operations and getting many, many more newsy people of color to get into the digital game and getting them comfortable with the idea that new media, with all its messy talk of economics, is here to stay.

A lot has been written about the refusal of many major digital operations to disclose their diversity numbers, so I'm not going to get into that much today only to say that history has a way of repeating itself. So if these operations refuse to be inclusive they should be prepared for the consequences.

Innovation Issue

The other issue is innovation within the ranks of journalists of color, which was part of the December post but didn't get as much attention but needs to as planning gets under way for this summer's NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA conferences. While it is nice to have the President or Boris Kodjoe speak at our conferences, it is more important to hear again and again from people who are leading the change in our industry and can show members how to survive this transition.

In January, I read with dismay a pretty heated discussion on the NABJ listserv about Arianna Huffington's and BET co-founder Sheila Johnson's plan to launch a black channel on Huffington Post. Some members questioned whether there should be a separate black section (and, later, a Latino section) rather than seamlessly and regularly integrating black and brown news and commentary into the main HuffPost. But the debate quickly devolved into the business model of operations such as HuffPost of supplementing their original work by linking to content at other operations rather than hiring an army of reporters, editors, copy editors and photographers.

On one side were the people who don't want to hear anything other than the old business of big media hiring lots of people. On the other side, were people arguing that the model has changed and journalists of color need to not only embrace that reality but also become a part of it. "What I desire, and what burns me at times, is that we on this listserv are so close-minded to what is happening in our business, and then we complain about a lack of opportunities," wrote one participant. "We are choosing to exist in the world of media as hired hands, as opposed to hands that can hire."

While I am so sympathetic to journalists worried about being a casualty of the next round of layoffs, I have to agree that we need to reset our minds to being entrepreneurs -- even if we are still collecting a big media paycheck and especially if we've already been downsized out of those gigs. I say "reset" because as a student of history I know that it is in our DNA. We forget sometimes how pioneering journalists of color were over the years because movies aren't made about our social networks.

Black History Research

In researching black history for my J-Lab-funded Black History Augmented Reality app, I was reminded about a lot of pioneering African-American media entrepreneurs who got into the game sometimes on a wing and a prayer but made sure the black POV didn't get lost among the national debate. The Black History Augmented Reality app, by the way, is now available in Layar with content in Washington, D.C.; Richmond; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Boston; Charleston; and New Orleans. Just download Layar to your iPhone 3GS or higher or Droid phone and search for black history -- and save as a favorite. If you are in any of those cities, you will see snippets of black history pop up as you look through the camera lens.

So in honor of Black History Month and as a reminder of our entrepreneurial roots, I want to give a shout-out to a few of the pioneers who took a chance on doing their own thing:

Mary Shad - Long before Huffington created her influential Post, a 30-something Mary Shad, a free woman by birth, in 1853 founded in the Provincial Freeman, the first ever newspaper to be published by a black woman in North America. The Provincial Freeman was a radical voice out of Canada for full integration into white society. In her paper, she skewered the separate black communities that had been established in Canada by black leaders such as Josiah "Uncle Tom" Henson, fugitive slaves and their well-meaning white financiers. Her columns foreshadowed the debate that still rages today (such as on the NABJ listserv) over integration versus self-imposed segregation, as Fergus M. Bordewich put it in "Bound for Canaan: the Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement."
Walter White - We marvel at the brave journalists who wade into dangerous territories such as Liberation Square in Cairo risking death to get us the news. Walter White, who later became the first national secretary of the NAACP, went undercover in the early 20th Century to expose racist terrorist groups that preyed upon the black community. As a very light skinned, blond, blue-eyed black man, White slipped into southern communities to uncover who was behind lynchings and race riots, beatings and burnings, including the 1919 mass murder of 200 black sharecroppers in Elaine, Ala., by white mobs. White was discovered that time but was able to get out of town with the posse hot on his tail.
Emmit McHenry - Before there was GoDaddy, there was Emmit McHenry who in 1995 founded Network Solutions, the very first registrar of dot-com domain names which helped build the online infrastructure that we enjoy (or curse) today. He sold it for millions of dollars just as the web was really taking off, so missed out on the billions enjoyed by later entrepreneurs.
Pittsburgh Courier - Much is made of social media's ability to change the course of history such as getting young people engaged in President Obama's presidential campaign. The Pittsburgh Courier was created in 1907 by Edwin Harleston, a guard in the H.J. Heinz food-packing plant, and quickly became one of the most important voices in the country because of its reach and influence in the national black community. The newspaper often set the political tone for African-Americans. A case in point is the newspaper's 1930s campaign to get black Americans, then die-hard Republicans, to "turn Lincoln's picture to the wall" and vote the Democratic New Deal ticket, thus creating a political alliance that lasts to this day.

These pioneers didn't have to do what they did. Shad could have remained safe and secure as a school teacher, White an insurance salesman, Harleston a guard and McHenry an executive at IBM -- but America would have been worse off because of it. Instead, they became innovators and entrepreneurs who took chances because the times demanded it. Just as they do today.

January 10 2011

17:07

Spot.Us Survey Shows Support for More Diverse Public Media

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy made 15 recommendations on how America can have a bright info-future. One of those recommendations was for increased support for public media predicated on public media efforts to "step up," for lack of a better term.

Public media has been on the minds and lips of a lot of Americans. Certainly the last few years have seen a growth in public media across the board from Corporation for Public Broadcasting entities (PBS, NPR) to less formal public media entities like PRX and PRI. Recently, as a follow-up to the work of the Knight Commission Barbara Cochran wrote a policy paper "Rethinking Public Media: Mort Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive." From the Knight Commission blog post:

At a time when government funding for public broadcasting is hotly debated, "Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive," a new policy paper by Barbara Cochran, offers five broad strategies and 21 specific recommendations to reform public media.


It's an excellent piece of reading that breaks down some of the roadblocks and opportunities that lay ahead for public media.

Beyond white papers, however, it's important that the public be able to speak their mind about public media. That's why, thanks to the support of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, the institutional home of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Spot.Us surveyed 500 members about the state of public media in their community.

The goal was to find out where public media is strong, weak and what suggestions the public might have for public media. Not only did this survey raise awareness about the growing role of public media, it supported media as well. Every member of our community that took the survey was given $5 in credits to fund the story of their choice on our site.

And The Survey Says....

How Big Is Your Community?
Before we can examine the survey in-depth I should remind folks that this is a sponsored survey of a somewhat self-selecting community (and our community is perhaps more media-savvy than other websites). That said, our first question was aimed at getting a sense of where people lived. One of the trends we often hear is that major metropolitan areas are better served by public media than smaller locations. Our survey affirmed this.

Just over 60 percent of respondents were from major metropolitan areas. Another 17 percent were from large cities. Only a handful (12 percent) came from towns with a population of 50,000 or less. Our survey skewed toward major metropolitan areas and in total they were happier with public media than folks in more rural areas. This should be kept in the back of our minds when we dive into the remaining questions and answers.
Spot.Us community member Mike Labonte summed up the frustration with public media in small towns when he wrote his suggestion to improve public media in his town: "Presence. The only public media in my city of 70,000 is the local public access cable TV station."

The next question in our survey allowed for multiple answers: "Who has an influential role in shaping media in your area?" It's an important question to ask because while the ecosystem continues to change many charge public media with the role to unite various media forces together. The results of this question were proven interesting again; as much as things have changed -- they also stay the same.

Newspapers and national broadcast television were considered influential by the most respondents. Just over 75 percent of people who took the survey selected papers as being influential. Local bloggers garnered 188 votes or just 37 percent of those that took the survey. While that's still a hefty number, it was the lowest concrete choice (it performed better than "other") and came in just below "elected officials."
Community member Laurie Pumper noted: "One small but telling example: Public radio went out of its way to keep a citizen journalism organization from providing live-streaming of a gubernatorial debate in Minnesota. If an organization accepts public funding, I expect better cooperation with other sources of media."

Next we asked how people got involved in public media. The respondents had three overwhelming answers: Social media, the general website and donating. The overlap between these three was also very strong. Almost everyone who said they donated engaged through the website and social media. Although the reverse trend was not as strong (i.e. somebody who engaged through social media might not donate), there was still a correlation.

In light of the number of respondents who said they volunteer or worked for public media, the number of people who attended events at their local public media station seemed a little low. Getting out the word can be very important as community member Ben Melançon said: "Dedicating the resources to come and ask what's up, once a month. Taking matters of interest common to multiple local areas they cover and doing very in-depth reports on them."
Next we got to the heart of the survey: How effective is public media at serving the needs and interests of diverse members of the community? While the responses to this aren't an abysmal failure, it does show large room for improvement. A total of 11 percent thought public media in their community was doing a poor job of reflecting diversity. The vast majority of responders selected either "good" (33 percent) or "fair" (32 percent). Because these two combine for 65 percent of all responders it's worth examining the exact language of these answers:
  • Fair -- There are occasional examples of diverse programming, but it's not the norm.
  • Good -- While not perfect, there are obvious efforts to make programming more inclusive.

While these lukewarm answers were the majority only a handful of responders thought public media was doing an "excellent" or "very good" job of reflecting a community's diversity.
And then came the meatiest question: "How well do public media do of informing you about local issues?"

Again we find mixed results, but the overall trend was positive. A majority 69 percent said public media was doing either "average" or "above average" at covering local issues. While it's great to see so few select "poor" (six percent) or "below average" (17 percent), there is still lots of room for improvement when we note that only 8 percent of responders thought public media was doing "fantastic."

In an interesting contrast with an earlier comment, community member Alexis Gonzales said this about the size of a town:

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover 'neighborhood' issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller city (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think public media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e., neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.



Taxes

The survey also threw in a playful question regarding taxes. Since public media's funding has been a topic of discussion, why not ask the public what they think? The question was arguably loaded, but still worth asking.

The exact language was: "British citizens are taxed $80.36 a year to support the BBC. United States citizens are taxed only $1.36. Knowing it would mean more taxes you believe the following." Then respondents could decide if they wanted to lower taxes to $0 or raise them to "beat the British."

This question was asked in part to educate, since many people don't realize how little our media is subsidized by taxes compared to other countries and in part to provoke responses around a hotly debated topic.

About 20 percent of responders thought the taxes should stay the same or even be lowered to $0. Nearly half thought of expanding the taxes a little either doubling it to $2.70 or expanding it to $30. And perhaps because of how the answer was worded  ("Let's beat the British") a whopping 34 percent wanted to raise taxes to $80.37 to fund public media. Either the Spot.Us community has lots of public media fans or a reminder that the British public media is out-funding ours 80-to-1 was too much to bear. (Also note 49 individuals who took the survey work for public media according to their answers to question #3).


From the public's mouth

Finally, our last open-ended question sought advice and input about how public media could improve at the local level. We received 500 responses and below I have republished some of the best with the survey respondents' permission.

Wendy Carrillo

I live in East LA / Boyle Heights. It's very rare that good positive stories are told about my community via TV news. LA Times covers some good stories, but it's not the norm. I would like to see my community being covered w/ national issues other than immigration. Like Latinos who serve in armed forces, or those who are making a difference in the classroom.

Tom Davidson

Engage the emerging local blogosphere -- providing them promotion/audience and, potentially, revenue via bundled sales using the bully pulpit of public media. In other words, why can't a local PBS or NPR station serve the same role as a TBD.com in Washington?

Tim Gihring

They could spice up the reporting. The no rant/no slant approach is appropriate, but the reporting is often simple, dry, and probably not engaging as broad an audience as possible as a result.

Henry Jenkins

Right now, Los Angeles seems poised to lose its PBS station, which is going independent. This is a good news, bad news situation. Some of its best current projects are local and these will continue and grow. But we will also lose some of the programs from PBS which we have come to expect and they will be missed.

Ruth Ann Harnisch

Deploy the resources of journalism majors and graduate students in the many universities and colleges located in and around the major metro areas. Collaborate with universities and colleges to cover more beats, produce more stories, create more outlets, uncover more potential advertisers and train better journalists.

Tom Stites

My community, Newburyport, Mass., is an hour north of Boston, a half hour south of Portsmouth, N.H., and an hour and 10 minutes south of Portland, Maine. I listen to public radio from all three, and no one covers Newburyport or its surrounding area. In fact, we're in a fringe reception area for all the stations. What would be really cool would be to have a low-power, listener-supported station right here in Newburyport. There's a local AM station that plays old music but has no local news presence.
Perhaps where I live makes me an outlier, but I suspect that my situation is quite common -- most public radio stations are in big cities or on university campuses in smaller places. That said, most smaller communities, including mine, don't have colleges.

Jake Bayless

Public media is largely the only not-for-profit trusted local and regional source of info, and source of curated content. I'd like to see that trust "capital" realized -- my local station is in the process of retooling for the new media revolution -- it's not easy to change the battleship's direction. More and amplified info like that from the Knight Commission needs to be put out there. The public at large doesn't yet understand how vital public media SHOULD be in their lives as info consumers. Public media orgs all should adopt "Community Media Projects" in order to learn, listen and meet the information and democratic needs of the communities they serve... everything else is broken, untrustworthy or unsuitable.

Arthur Coddington

Awareness that public media is frequently a partnership between national providers (NPR) and local stations. Those that don't understand this partnership can dismiss the programming as not locally relevant. Visibility. Police who are present and interacting with local residents can generate greater trust and participation in public safety. Similar thing could be true of public media. If they are visible -- if they are not "they" -- then we feel more connected to the stories, more possibility to reach out to them when new issues arrive, etc. Engagement. Partner with schools, libraries and service orgs to unearth essential local stories, create broadcasts about them, and follow up to track impact.

Andria Krewson

Be more aggressive about giving up old ways (and sometimes long-time staffers) to free up resources and time to explore new ways of sharing information. Note on the tax question: I'd support more taxation for public media, but I'm discouraged about the track record used to spend tax money recently and would need total transparency (and some influence) on how money is spent in order to support more taxation.

Chris Mecham

We have a very active NPR-supporting community here but the simple fact is that they are charged with providing service to a huge, mountainous geographic area and while we may, as a community, have an above average rate of contribution, we also have greater infrastructure expenses than many other areas. Considering what Boise State Public Radio does with their resources I think they are doing okay. One of the features of public broadcasting funding in Idaho is that up to a fairly generous limit our contributions are counted as a tax credit. Not a deduction. A credit. "Do I want to give Butch Otter my money or do I want to give Terry Gross my money? Hmmmm."

Lisa Morehouse

Experiment. Be willing to try and fail at new shows, new ways of delivering the news. Invest in reporting. Pay freelancers a fair wage so that journalists without financial support can enter and stay in the profession (not possible now).

Bill Day

Public media should pioneer efforts to build real-time citizen journalist networks. Using low cost distribution and collation tools, public media could become hubs for high-quality, low cost information sharing -- school test scores, water quality, traffic needs, etc.

Sabine Schmidt

Through reaching out to organizations and individuals representing under-served parts of the community, especially economic and ethnic minorities. The demographic makeup of my metro area is changing rapidly due to growing Hispanic, Marshallese, and Hmong populations; except for some Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations, few media outlets report on issues such as immigration, wage theft, bilingual education, etc. Public media could a) report more extensively on those topics -- not as "minority" issues but as issues affecting members of our community; this would require b) establishing a broader definition of what our community is; and c), public media could offer internships and fellowships to young and/or freelance journalists, especially because the local NPR station is run by the university's journalism department.

Antonio Roman-Alcala

I like the Bay Citizen model, and the Public Press ... one for exposing local issues to a broader audience, the other for in-depth local news for locals. I don't know if that counts as public media? Overall, I don't pay much attention to TV news, even public channels...so I'm not sure about that. Public media seems generally underfunded; I'd like to see more funding for it, as well as movement towards a more public-serving private news media (though we know, of course, that's easier said than done).

Alexis Gonzales

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover "neighborhood" issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller cities (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think Public Media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e. neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.

Kaitlin Parker

Find positive happenings to report in communities that are typically only covered when something negative happens there.

Anthony Wojtkowiak

For lack of a better phrase, they need to grow some balls. My town in New Jersey is influenced by political boss George Norcross, the unions, and the mafia. And that's not even the corruption and hubris that goes on in the city itself. What our reporters really need is assertiveness training, media law training, and self-defense courses. But most of all, they need the courage to use all of that stuff.

Todd O'Neill

Our public radio and public television are separate entities that don't work together. Although our public radio is beefing up it's news reporting it seems simple to bring that reporting over to television. But public media is NOT JUST NPR and PBS. We have struggling cable public access community (no funding or support from the city) here and a number of online only community journalism operations (including a Knight grantee) that are all doing their own thing without coordination. Big Public Media (NPR/PBS) should be a leader to bring all of these "under the tent" and provide a real media public service to the community.

Charles Sanders


Actually, local issues aren't my concern. I wish public media reinforced its international coverage and improved its drama, comedy ... content. I envy the BBC.

Martin Wolff


As someone who listens to public media daily, it is sad that I have to try hard to think about a local issue being covered. In that respect, almost anything would improve the coverage as it feels almost, but not quite, non-existent. When local issues are covered they seemingly come in only two forms: 1. A feel good issue that is barely an issue and will create nearly zero discourse in the community. For example, holiday-lights festivals. 2. Wimpy. The interviewer/broadcaster will do nothing while two sides of an issue actively lie to the community and directly contradict each other. Fixing #1 is easy -- nobody really terribly cares, so we don't need 10 minutes of coverage about a mayor flipping the switch and lighting a tree up. Fixing #2 is harder. The public media must stand up for itself better and call out the guilty parties. The public media must step up its role as a sort of police officer of society and arrest those who break the rules.

Yvette Maranowski


ALWAYS retain vigorous capacity for citizen reporters. Fund them with equipment and training. People are busy now and have to work independently, but with lifelines keeping them connected to their media outlets. Use McChesney and Nichol's idea of $200 in tax credit going to every citizen, so that the citizen can donate their credit to whatever organization they choose -- such as journalistic ones. Constantly produce and air/publish material about the importance of journalism -- keep hitting the public with that message!

Andy Edgar


Survey people in the neighborhood for their backgrounds, locations and topics of interest, get them interested in issues that affect everyone. Focus on things like air and water quality, advice on picking up litter and why it's important not to litter, community events, getting to know neighbors' talents/skills, healthy alternatives to fast food and big box grocery stores. Community based ways to prevent crime/hate acts should be talked about explored and tried.

William Forbes


In my community (Minneapolis/St Paul, MN), "public" radio and television are HUGE cash cows. They do a good job and are influential but the real inclusive and diverse media that truly serve the under-represented populations of our area are Community Radio Stations, in particular KFAI. MN Public Television/NPR/MPR/PBS could do a much better job but they are more concerned with maintaining (and increasing) corporate and government funding than with covering issues that don't always have universal appeal.

Michael Hopkins

In its current state, public media is dangerous because it offers the illusion of complete objectivity and truth. Too many people listen to it uncritically because of this. I would like to see public media representatives ask much tougher questions of everybody and hire a much more diverse staff of journalists. The illusion will still be there, but it will match reality more closely.

Jeffrey Aberbach


My community now has a Patch website. It's too early to judge how successful it will be in reaching out to our diverse community, but so far it appears to be more successful than the established, corporate-owned media outlet in town (a poorly staffed small daily newspaper that generates little local content).

Jeddy Lin


In my area, despite being close to a large university, not much of a public media movement exists. A more visible public media would go a long way towards creating a more progressive, diverse community.

Kitty Norton


They could provide better coverage for schools. They seem to report statistics and not real life goings-on in our schools to the community.

Luke Gies


I don't have any television or newspaper service, so I am somewhat "self isolating" from our local media. I get most of my news from the Internet, so I think one area of improvement for local media would be to increase the content and improve the usability of their websites. That is more of an improvement in distribution than in "covering the issues," but distribution is a key component to the reporting of news.

January 05 2011

17:33

Are People of Color Missing in New Media? A #MediaDiversity Chat

How many times have you been to a technology or media conference and noticed the dominance of white male speakers at the podium or the room? That's what Arizona State University professor and media veteran Retha Hill saw when she attended the recent NewsFoo conference in Phoenix and the ONA conference in Washington, DC.

She wrote about the diversity problem at new media conferences, as well as some possible solutions, in a post on Idea Lab last week. Quickly, the response on social media and in the comments showed that it was a hot topic, and something that resonated with a lot of people in the industry.

So the next day, I organized a Twitter chat at the #mediadiversity hashtag, and invited Retha Hill, Doug Mitchell of New U (and former NPR), and Rafat Ali (founder of PaidContent) to participate. I threw out some questions and thought it was an excellent chat. Not only did we talk about the problems in the industry, but we talked about solutions and what we could do to make conferences -- and newsrooms -- more diverse.

Below is an edited version of the tweets from that conversation last week on Twitter, as culled via KeepStream. You can see a longer version of the chat here.

Plus, Robert Hernandez had a very personal take on this in OJR, and here's his conclusion:

If we don't invest in recruiting and training members of diverse groups to help us do and advanced journalism ... we are royally screwed.

My New Year's resolution is to harness my access and network to improve diversity across the board for web journalism. But I need your help. I need your ideas.

More importantly, in your newsrooms, your communities (and those you are not a part of) need your help. Reach out, connect, participate, preach and downright fight to ensure your news org's journalism reflects the diverse community it covers. Help it stay relevant.

It's hard to argue with his resolution.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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December 28 2010

14:30

Why Are New Media Conferences Lacking in Minorities?

It's been a couple of weeks since Tim O'Reilly's News Foo rolled into the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, and while I truly enjoyed thinking big thoughts with big thinkers about the direction of our industry, I couldn't help but notice how lacking in diversity the invitation-only gathering was. The same thing could be said for the Online News Association conference held in Washington, D.C., the end of October. True, there were a lot more brown faces at this last gathering than six or seven years ago when Ju-Don Roberts, then a senior editor at Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive, and I were the only African Americans in the room. The lack of diversity at ONA '10 was the subject of a brief but heated conversation between some National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) members, a few of whom wanted to "do something" about it, like call ONA's leadership out.

Was it an oversight? A slap? Or was it a reflection of the lack of diversity in the country's online newsrooms? Maybe it is the echo chamber effect of the online news types whose definition of who is innovating is limited to the people they hang with.

Plenty of Candidates

It surely couldn't be that there are no persons of color innovating in media. A year before, prior to the ONA conference in San Francisco, I helped put together a list of about 20 African Americans, ranging from online executives to entrepreneurs to a CTO, who could be on panels. Sadly, none of them made the cut. And each year, when I organize a week-long intensive innovation session held by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, where three groups of five college students each have five days to come up with a new product for the newspaper industry, minorities and women are well represented on the speaker's list.

This year, more than half of the speakers were persons of color, including power hitters such as Chris Hendricks, VP of interactive media for McClatchy, who schooled the students about the reality of online advertising; Caesar Andrews of Gannett to talk about ethics and technology; Dr. Sybril Bennett of Belmont University who caught the students up on the latest technology innovations; and Brandon Harris of Gannett's innovation group, 11g, who guided them through the human-centered design approach to disruption.

It didn't take that much effort to put together the list of speakers, and I was pretty much restricted to NAA members so didn't reach out to people who are doing their own thing like Fern Shen, founder of Baltimore Brew, or Rick Hancock, who built a full multimedia studio in his basement where he runs a successful new media empire in Connecticut. And I didn't reach out to the likes of Denmark West, president of digital media for BET Networks; or Chuck Creekmur and Greg Watkins, the guys who successfully launched Allhiphop.com more than a decade ago when they were using two-way pagers to push the news out; or academics such as Kevin Clark, director of Digital Media and Innovation at George Mason University; or Michelle Ferrier, associate professor at Elon University and a J-Lab Women Entrepreneurs grant winner. These people are from a list off the top of my head, and there are many more out there.

I'm not going to put all of the blame, if you will, for the lack of diversity at these conferences on the organizers. Persons of color who are innovating or want to innovate need to get involved and raise their own profiles. The UNITY journalism groups have been way too slow in preparing members to make the transition from staff member to COO of their own ventures or training them to roll from legacy to new media. But that is changing. Thanks to the Ford Foundation, each of the minority journalism groups had funding this year to seed a startup, and a panel I was on that dealt with innovation was standing room-only at last summer's NABJ convention.

I also applaud those organizations that are consciously making sure that journalists of color are getting the training they need to be successful in new media. The Freedom Forum's New Media training at the Diversity Institute in Nashville and the Maynard Institute continues to make sure mid-level executives are steeped in new media and innovation. This summer, the Village Voice alt-weekly is launching a Minority Media Digital Fellowship, a 10-week training program for college students that will be held at the Cronkite School and facilitated by yours truly, because the publisher doesn't like the number of minorities doing the digital thing. The deadline for applying is Feb. 8.

New Year's Resolutions

I'm not one to see problems without thinking of solutions, so in light of a new year coming upon us, let's collectively make some resolutions when it comes to diversity in this new media that we are building:

• When planning conferences and panels, resolve to expand beyond your trusted go-to group of presenters to a more diverse set. If you don't know whom to invite, ask and I'll make sure I give you some names. Feel free to start with the people already mentioned.

• Go young: BET.com, MTV.com, Allhiphop.com to name a few are a wonderful source for millennials who have experience in interactive content and news. I am happy to see ONA launching a youth initiative as a tribute to one of its founding members, MJ Bear, who passed away in December. It was one of her last wishes.

NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA, let's make sure this summer's conventions are steeped in innovation and new media training for our members. It's nearly 2011 and media are evolving and we need to make sure we evolve with it.

• Site managers please look at your staffs. If they are all white, resolve to diversify whether by hiring experienced persons of color or growing your own. I had to build an entire staff of culturally aware content producers in 1999 when BET.com launched at a time when the number of African Americans in new media was woefully small. So I trained black and Latino hip-hop magazine writers, BET television producers and young people straight out of Howard and Hampton universities in new media. Many of them are now leaders at new media companies across the country.

I believe that if there is a will, there is a way. We can't build a strong new media if their content and staffs are not diverse. New media cannot afford to make the same mistakes as old media, especially in the face of a changing America. More journalists of color have to take chances and innovate, whether it is at your legacy media company or at a startup that you form at your kitchen table. Whether you are pushed or you leap, you will need new media skills to get ahead. There is still time and there is still room in the media landscape for a diversity of ideas and people.

November 04 2010

16:15

MIT Project Helps Prisoners Blog From Jail Through Snail Mail

Between the Bars logo

Though we were the top winner in the inaugural Knight News Challenge back in 2007, MIT's Center for Future Civic Media took as our mandate something rather "un-news": Applying our tech expertise to information needs, broadly defined, rather than what we'd traditionally call news.

This focus has had a big impact on the kind of work we take on. It's pushed us to identify key needs left unmet by traditional news outlets, even ones otherwise adjusting well to the transition online.

We've worked on urban signage, open-source grassroots mapping, natural gas drilling databases, and much else with big, ground-level application.

So while others are touting -- rightly -- how new technology has changed, say, midterm election coverage, the Center for Future Civic Media this week is touting the launch of a new project that helps prisoners blog.

Between the Bars

Between the Bars is being developed by MIT master's student and Center researcher Charlie DeTar and Center fellow Benjamin Mako Hill. This project is a brilliant mix of high and low tech aimed at the 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons. Because prisoners have little or no access to the Internet, Between the Bars invites them to mail handwritten letters to a physical Between the Bars address. The letters are scanned, posted online, and transcribed by volunteers, and readers can leave comments, which are printed out and mailed back to the author.

The result is a public, searchable, "respondable" blog post, much like any other.

Charlie and the Center were drawn to this project because it meets an information need not addressed anywhere else, as he told WNYC's "The Takeaway" last week:

Prisoners have no access to broadcast media, and especially no access to the Internet. Phone service costs in prison can be extortionate -- often several dollars per minute. Our project aims to provide a gateway between the Internet and postal mail. This makes it available to nearly all prisoners.

This is essential, because we're good at incarcerating people but bad at reintegrating them once their sentence is served:

We want to help give prisoners a voice to speak and express themselves beyond the criminal identity forced on them by a criminal system that by, policy, refers to inmates as "offenders." We don't believe that prisoners' right to express themselves should end at the prison gate, and our projects aims to give them the tools to speak from inside. Second, we want to help humanize prisoners in the eyes of the public, who, due to the barriers created by imprisonment, often treat prisoners as outcasts and second-class citizens. Third, we want to help prisoners support "weak" social ties. Sociologists have shown that our networks of "acquaintances" provide critical help in tasks like finding jobs and form the basis of our social safety nets. While prisoners can use phone calls and letters to stay in contact with their closest friends and family members (strong ties), weak ties are often destroyed by incarceration. We hope that blogging can provide a means of maintaining these connections.

Charlie worked with MIT's legal advisers and varied prison-related organizations to ensure little risk would come of the process, but we're thrilled to say thus far participating bloggers are proving the Between the Bars system can work for them. If you happen to work with prisoners or advocacy organizations, get in touch with us at http://civic.mit.edu/contact and we'll show you how you can help.

July 31 2010

17:02

**Open Diversity – building news (by and about) that looks more like all of us!**

This aims to be an open discussion and to establish some collective goals for the field. The intent is to move beyond complaints from women and people of color directed at X media outlet, Y conference organizer, and Z grant funder.
What constitutes “diversity”? What does it mean to be more diverse? What does diversity look like? How does it feel? How are we going to achieve it? Last December Tracy Van Slyke and Josh Sterns wrote “10 Journalism Resolutions for 2010” (review here: http://tiny.cc/vuk0r ) Eight months into the year – what is the collective report card? Are we achieving progress? What can we collectively do to deepen progress and ensure real, and open, diversity?

Note: Several proposals potentially touch on diversity, but as none are explicit, hence this separate proposal.

July 26 2010

16:24

The Need for Cultural Translation with Community Media

The TED talk of Ethan Zuckerman, the founder of the international blogging site Global Voices, provides amazing insight into the challenges of telling international stories online. It's told in the great TED way of painting lots of pictures and using a ton of anecdotes.

Zuckerman said it's a big myth that the web is bringing us closer to other cultures or countries -- when we're on the web, we're basically in our own small islands of our social networks. Most of us who are building businesses/non-profits around non-traditional media content know this, but he has some great PowerPoint slides that add a lot of meat to the arguments. Give it a look:

Cultural DJs

In addition to providing some very telling facts -- did you know that "Madagascar" the movie is a bigger brand than Madagascar the country? -- he talks about translation. And not just the challenges of literal translation from one language to another, which is something Video Volunteers faces in our work all the time, especially now when we have community video correspondents working in nearly every state of India, a country with dozens of official languages. He talks about "cultural translation." He makes the point that we need more "DJs ... skilled human curators" who can speak the language of the West and of other cultures at the same time.

The incredible editors at Global Voices fit that bill, and so does the blog Afrigadget. Video Volunteers attempt to do this, too, in the articles that accompany the online videos made by our community correspondents in our new IndiaUnheard community news network.

This is really interesting to me because at Video Volunteers we talk a lot about the need for "unmediated" voices -- essentially, voices that are not culturally translated. This is one of the differences between community video, which to us means equipping traditionally "unheard" communities to tell their stories in their own words, and documentary film, where a professional uses his or her artistry and insight to translate community voices for outside audiences.

At VV, we believe, in fact, that so much is lost in translation that you want to keep "cultural translation" to a minimum. And so, with our newly launched IndiaUnheard community news network, we want to bring voices out voices in their raw form. As my partner Stalin K. often says, "if I say the words 'Masai warrior' you get an immediate visual in your head. You don't, in a similar fashion, hear their voices in your head."

We know from TV what the Masai look like. But we don't know what they sound like, because in traditional National Geographic-type media, we just see the Masai with a narration; their whole culture, never mind their language, is translated for an international audience.

There are real limits to the possibilities for translation. As I heard Zuckerman himself say at a Civic Media conference, it's hard enough to find cultural translators for English to other cultures. But what about all the learning that could happen between the readers of, say, Kurdish media in New York City and Haitian media in New York City? How is that translation going to happen? I don't know that we could ever have enough translators to solve that problem.

Two Videos to Watch

So how do we get people to watch -- rather, to want to watch -- videos like these two posted below, made by our IndiaUnheard correspondents? If the world had an ideal system for enabling the poor to represent themselves in the media, which I would say is something like one community journalist per village (or even per 20 villages), how would we interest people outside those villages to watch this content? Here are two recent videos to check out and see what you think:

Children Carry Trash, Not Books shows how children of poor families do not benefit from the current schemes on compulsory free education. The video is produced by Pratibha Rolta, a community correspondent from the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh, who works as an activist on women's issues.

The second video, titled Children Denied Education, captures the plight of child labourers in Haryana's brick kilns who are deprived of several rights, including education. The correspondent here, Satyawan, was a Sarpanch (village head) for five long years before joining IndiaUnheard, and has in-depth knowledge of corruption within the local administration.

Besides our own website and within the communities where the producers work (where most of our work is shown) there are some forums for videos like this. I showed these two videos two weeks ago as a panelist at the IFP/UN-sponsored ENVISION 2010: Addressing Global Issues through Documentaries, an event organized by the IFP, UN Communications Department, and New York Times. This was a one day conference on education and documentary films and, happily, there was space for user-created content.

A few years ago there probably wouldn't have been. I was on a panel about the impact of user-generated media, along with with Mallika Dutt of Breakthrough, John Kennedy of World Without Borders and Ryan Schlieff of Witness -- all good friends in the field of media and human rights. People in the world of documentary film, or in the UN sector with its huge budgets for traditional communications, were getting a taste of what's possible when you turn the camera over to communities. This is progress towards the acceptance of these voices.

More Global Than Ever

With our work, I take a long term perspective. (Wanting every village in the world to have someone skilled and motivated to represent his neighbors' concerns in the media kind of requires that!) I think that media preferences are not fixed in stone. What Americans liked on TV and in the movies in the fifties is different from what we liked in the seventies and today. Who knows where people's tastes will be twenty years from now?

I'm an optimist. I think we will only get more global and more curious, and more open to raw, unfiltered reality. I believe there are even studies that show that kids today who've grown up with mashups and social networks are much more open to gritty media that their parents wouldn't look at.

In the meantime, we keep telling our correspondents to tell their stories in their own words, with their own style, their own analysis -- no matter how challenging it may be for outsiders to understand without translation.

June 11 2010

14:00

Bill Buzenberg on Center for Public Integrity’s aim to “catalyze impact,” fundraise in a competitive field

Nonprofit news organizations may be all the rage, but they’re not a new animal. Last week, 20-year-old Center for Public Integrity announced a round of recent hires. Since January, CPI has brought on nine new journalists, including reporters, editors and a database expert. For a team of about 50, it’s a significant expansion.

New hires include John Solomon, long-time investigative reporter and the former executive editor of The Washington Times, as “reporter in residence,” Julie Vorman, former Reuters Washington editor as deputy managing editor, and Peter Stone of National Journal.

CPI is known for its investigative projects that appear in major print and broadcast outlets. A recent year-long project on campus sexual assault was picked up by outlets around the country, reaching what CPI said was an audience of 40 million. Last week CPI partnered with The New York Times in publishing Coast Guard logs suggesting authorities knew about the severity of the BP oil spill much sooner than announced. The logs were also published on the Center’s website and were widely used by newspapers across the country.

I spoke with Bill Buzenberg, CPI’s executive director about his expansion and the organization more broadly. Buzenberg says CPI does not fall on one side of the “impact v. audience” question, but acknowledged that their latest strategic plan emphasizes the organization’s desire to “catalyze impact.” He thinks it’s an exciting time for nonprofit journalism, but sees challenges in an increasingly crowded fundraising field. Here’s a lightly edited version of our conversation.

Is this a new team you’re hiring for a specific project or a general expansion of your editorial capacity?

It’s a general expansion of our editorial capacity. We have a very strong push on: The top major newspapers are all using our content, even online at The Huffington Post. The work is being used more than ever. Lots of places want to partner with us. There is so much watchdog work to be done.

Some nonprofits, like MinnPost, are focused on drawing a regular audience to their website. Others are looking for other outlets to pick up their work and reach an audience that way. Could you talk about where Center for Public Integrity fits?

I think from the beginning the Center has had the same trajectory. In the beginning, actually, it did reports, held news conferences and handed out those reports, and they were reported on by other publications. That is still part of our operation. We very much do reporting work — sometimes it’s a year, sometimes it’s months, sometimes its a few days — and we make it available to other organizations very broadly. And it gets used very, very broadly.

One example: We did a project on campus assault, just recently. We worked on it for a year. We collected the data from 160 universities, we did an investigation, we did a lot of FOIAs, which we increasingly do here, we get the documents and the data. Then we did a number of reports. And we look for a specific partner on each platform: online, print, radio, and television. That’s what we’ve done. ABC did a story on it. NPR did a number of reports on it. Huffington Post carried a number of reports. And we made a specific plan to provide a toolkit for campus newspapers: 65 campus newspapers have used that report. We made it available in an ebook. The sum total of that we can now say that 40 million people have heard, watched, seen, or read some part of our campus assault project. It is on our website. And there’s a community interested in this work, that’s concerned about what’s going on with campus assault. So we have a resource on our website. And it’s in the other publications.

So we’re both. We want people to come read it and get our work here, and we love it when it’s published elsewhere and linked back to us. There is always going to be more on our site — more data, more documents, more photographs. We want traffic to our site, as well as have it used elsewhere.

We also run the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The consortium is 100 journalists in 50 countries. We are working on, right now, three major cross-border investigations. We’ve been working on global tobacco for quite a while and issuing reports. Those reports are running in publications all over the world where those reporters work or have connections. For example, in July we have a project coming out with the BBC. The BBC has planned two documentaries and several programs. They’re using all of the work that we’ve started. We’re all doing it at the same time. It’ll come out the third week in July and it’ll run all over the world. Not just the BBC World Service, but in countries where we’ve been working. So we work internationally. We work in Washington, increasingly covering federal agencies. And we work at the state level, where we’re able to do 50-state projects. So that’s our model. It’s unique in how it operates. We’ve spent 20 years building this up. We’re very much pushing to do more, do it better, and do it widely.

You mention audience — is that how you measure success? There’s this debate happening right now: Is it audience, or is it impact? How do you define success at CPI?

Increasingly, the real way we measure success is impact. That is a huge part of our strategic plan: We want to catalyze impact. That means we want hearings to follow. We want laws to change. We want actions to happen. We are not an advocacy organization. We don’t go out and say “here is what you should do” in any way shape or form. We’re an investigative journalism organization. We do the reporting, but we love to see actions happen because of our reporting. A few years ago, when we reported on all the lobbyist-paid travel, where the records were kept in the basement of Capitol that no one had ever looked at — that took a year to do, with students. [Disclosure: I was one of those students.] But we listed every single trip taken by every single member of Congress for five years, and every staff member of every member of Congress. We showed every trip, every expense. The minute that was published, the travel started down. Then the new Congress came in and said, “oh, we have to close this loophole.” It was a loophole because it was public and transparent. We love that that’s an action that comes out of it.

But of course we like audience and we like engagement. So audience is a part of it. Engagement is increasingly a part of it. Are people writing comments, giving us ideas? How is the audience engaged? I was just up in Minnesota — the university there had just done a day-long session on campus assault, which came out of a public-radio interview they did with our reporter there. That’s an engagement in an issue at a local level that is very important.

[Buzenberg said that CPI's site attracts more than 1 million unique visitors per year, but declined to release exact traffic statistics.]

Nonprofit journalism is a hot topic right now, but there have been outlets like yours for a long time. I’m wondering, in terms of fundraising, does that give you a leg up right now, given that you’re established, or is it becoming difficult in a more crowded field?

I was in public radio for 27 years, both at National Public Radio and local. I was the head of news at national for seven years and then went to Minnesota Public Radio, now called American Public Media nationally. We raised a lot of money in both places. That’s nonprofit journalism with an important audience and it does great work.

Right now, I think, many funders have understood that the watchdog work, the investigative work, it’s expensive, it’s difficult, it’s risky. It’s the first thing often that gets cut when newspapers are declining, or magazines, or television, when they don’t have as many people out doing it. I think it’s been a period in which foundations and individuals have seen the importance of the kind of work that we do and we’ve gotten some strong support to continue to do this work. Yes, it’s competitive. It’s difficult.

We’re raising money in three ways. We do have foundation support. We’re talking with something like 86 foundations, many of whom do support us. We also are raising money from individuals — small donations with membership, much like public radio. Larger donations from people with resources. We do have a strong base of individual donors. And the third way is earned revenue, and we’re working on various scenarios of how we can earn that. We just did research for BBC. We sold our map on the global climate lobby to National Geographic. We’re selling ebooks. We do have various small revenue streams we want to grow. Those are three ways we raise the money to do this work. It’s important work and it’s not free. Public radio’s not free either. They get government resources — a small amount really. But at the Center we don’t take government money, direct corporate money, and we don’t take anonymous money. We make transparent, which is a very important thing, who is supporting us. It’s difficult. It’s not easy. With all the new centers popping up, there’s competition. There’s a lot going on, but I think many foundations, locally and nationally — and increasingly internationally, because we’ve gotten some good international support — have understood that this kind of work needs to be supported.

One thing I wanted to circle back to is your expansion. It seems like your recent expansion is into financial coverage. How did you come to that decision to expand in such a focussed way?

It came when the financial crisis hit the fall of 2008. We felt like no one was really saying who had caused the subprime problems — who was behind that? So we did a project. We started with 350 million mortgages. The mortgages are public information. From that, we named the 7.5 million subprime mortgages and we picked the 25 top lenders. Who they were, who supported them, where they did their lending, at what interest rates. We put it into a report. It took us six months. It’s “Who is behind the financial meltdown?” It still gets traffic. We put it out as an ebook. It’s being used by attorneys general. It’s being used by all sorts of people. No one had done the definitive work. That’s a project I’m really proud of. From that we grew a business and finance area. We thought there was so much more.

We’re tracking financial regulation and financial regulation issues in a way other people aren’t doing. That’s what our three-person team is doing. Financial is one area — money and politics is obviously one area we work in at the state and the national level. I might add when we did the global climate lobby before Coppenhagen, we were working globally. The other area is environment. The stories we’re working on with the BBC are environment. We’re doing a big project on the 10 most toxic workplaces and the 10 most toxic communities in America. It’ll take us six months.

How big are you? How many people work at the Center?

Right now, with the additions, we’re about 40. With fellows, we have 5 fellows and 6 interns, so we’re close to 50 people, if you add in fellowships and interns. It’s a major investment, there’s no question about it. That’s how we’re able to focus on these new projects.

This is a little touchy, but it jumped out at me. When I looked at the press release for the expansion I noticed that the eight new editorial hires are all men, I’m just curious about your struggles with diversity and bringing on women?

Well, first of all, the corrected version of the press release we sent out has Julie Vorman. We hired a deputy managing editor whose name should have been on there and it’s not on there. It’s not all the hires at the center — the six interns we hired, for example, are all women. We had 350 applicants for our internship program and we picked six, the best six. There are women at the Center. If I looked at the overall Center numbers, it is diverse, and it does have women. My COO and the head of development are in there, and on and on. There are many women here. It looked more male than it should have in the latest hires. It’s a fair question, but I think if you look at the overall numbers of the Center both with diversity and women reporters.

[After our conversation, Buzenberg looked up a breakdown of all staff at the Center, finding 43 percent are women and 23 percent are minority. Their staff page, showing individual positions, is here.]

June 09 2010

20:24

Pew: 27% of Americans Use Digital Tools to Talk to Neighbors

Special Invite - Join the Pew Internet and American Life report author in a special Q and A discussion on the Locals Online community of practice now!

Cross-posted at blog.e-democracy.org (with additional links).

According to the just released Neighbors Online report from Pew Internet and American Life, 27% of American adult Internet users (or 20% of adults overall) use "digital tools to talk to their neighbors and keep informed about community issues."

This is an amazing number and a great starting point.

Today, we finally have baseline for the growing neighbors online movement. The other week we hosted a webinar on how to use technology for community building. This week we have some real numbers to help us develop strategies to broadly serve and connect as many people as possible not just those who easily show up - because if we don't we will soon be talking about how we red-lined neighborhoods out of the community and democracy building opportunity of a generation.

In summary, to reach the 27% of Internet users engaging locally online:

* 14% read a blog dealing with community issues at least once in the last year (while the frequency of visits wasn't measured in this survey, 1/3 of general blog readers check blogs each day)
* 13% exchanged emails with neighbors about community issues (think informal "to:" "cc:")
* 7% say they belong to a community e-mail list (this intensive and typically daily experience is the cornerstone of E-Democracy.org Neighbors Issues Forums experience) - this equates to about 10 million American adults connected most days with their neighbors online in community life!
* 6% communicated with neighbors by text messaging on cell phones
* 5% joined a social network site group connected to community issues (like Ning and Facebook)
* 3% followed neighbors using Twitter (note the embryonic trend of geo "hashtags" like #nempls - we feed it too)

Aaron Smith, the report author, in a private exchange noted to me that 2/3 of respondents only did one of these items. This bolsters my view that the "there there" very local spaces online is almost a natural monopoly - so making a unified online space available via multiple technologies is essential (we use e-mail, web, web feed, Facebook, and Twitter in an interconnected way for example) to reach more people.
The Inclusion Challenge

It has been our experience that the vast majority of "organic" local online places started by passionate volunteers (some placeblogs are quasi-commercial, but outside of such blogs, this is not an adjunct of journalism) serve middle and upper income communities - urban homeowners. The people who know about neighbors forums - LOVE THEM - based on the feedback we've received on our forums (including the one I host) and the all the new volunteers emerging to serve the 10+ new communities (often jealous of what they see just next door to them).

First some good news focusing mostly on 7% on neighborhood e-mail lists (although we do see local social networks, blogs, etc. all blending together at some point anyway):

* Whites and Blacks participate equally at 8% of Internet users
* Urban participation is 10% and suburban isn't far behind at 7%
* Women participate strongly at 9% in fact, we could say we need more men who are only 5% (this is not the case with political interaction online where white men dominate)
* With the community blog numbers, both young adults (16%) and African-Americans (18%) Internet users have read a blog with community issues at least once in the last year compared to 14% overall.

We launched our Inclusive Social Media effort with Ford Foundation and St. Paul Foundation support to develop inclusive Neighbors Issues Forums in lower income, high immigrant neighborhoods - or what we felt are areas that are completely missing out from the community building power of local online engagement. We see the Internet as the most cost-effective "ice breaker" opportunity out there that can create new bridges and sustained bonds. With intervention and resources for real outreach and inclusion, neighbors online will do far more than just reflect existing social capital.

So now we have numbers on the digital participation divide we must close - among Internet users (not just the general population, so we are talking connected people):

* Only 2% of those with household incomes under $30,000 are on a neighborhood e-mail list, still only 3% up to $49,000 while between $50-75,000 it is 7% and over $75,000 it is a whopping 15%
* Only 3% of Hispanics (both English and Spanish Speaking) are on a neighborhood e-mail list - while they don't measure Asians or immigrants specifically, our guess is that the percent would be even lower - our efforts target the highly East African Cedar Riverside neighborhood and the plurality ~40% Southeast Asian (Hmong) with African-American (20%) and White (20%) Frogtown neighborhood)
* Only 2% of rural residents belong to a neighborhood e-mail list (while terminology may have been a factor here, we've learned a lot from our Rural Voices effort to launch 4 community forums in rural communities and would like the opportunity to invest more in this area - in fact we've recently submitted small grant proposals to bring the majority Native American and also lower income Cass Lake Leech Lake forum into our Inclusive Social Media effort which will put a simple one hour a day Community Outreach and Information Leader on the ground)

Next Steps?

Here are some rough thoughts that we add to over time:

1. Inclusion Matters - As an organization, E-Democracy.org needs to focus on bring these powerful online community building opportunities to all - especially the people and communities being left behind. We need more partners and funders to make this happen in the next phase of our Inclusive Social Media effort in 2011 and beyond. Interested in helping? Contact us. In the near term, we need to find resources to work with the vibrant Powderhorn Park Neighbors Forum to build on their expressed interest in recruiting more Latino participation. They have had some bi-lingual postings, but the community in looking for ways to build more connections as they confront in part a summer of youth/gang related violence.
2. We Need a Good Directory Look-up - Most people don't know about online community spaces (I think). If they did far more would join. We need to create a technology/format agnostic directory with geographic and map based look-ups for these two-way local online communities. We need to build on the work of Placeblogger and the UK-based GroupsNearYou site which isn't actively being developed.
3. Neighbors Online Week - With a good directory, we can then promote such sites nationally/globally. I want the President of the United States to be able to say (like the White House did with the launch of Serve.Gov), go to X site, connect with your neighbors - ACROSS the political spectrum - and build your community.
4. Move the Field - OK, so while we'd love to have many more people start a forum with us, most of you will do your own thing. It is human nature. As part of our inclusion-oriented Participation 3.0 initiative we've convened dozens of local "hosts" for peer to peer exchange on Locals Online. Let's make it hundreds, share effective practices and lessons, and inspire thousands of new "hosts" to start or effective grow local online spaces that work. Based on the Pew numbers, we estimate that there could be 30,000 neighborhood e-mails list hosts for example. They are almost all working in isolation. Time to connect!
5. Neighbor.be Open Source? - I think there is a need to connect nearest neighbors online and wonder what we could do collaboratively with interested developers.

Closing Remarks

If the Internet was first about going to the world, then connecting privately with friends and family via social networking, the revolution is finally coming home to everyday public and community life. We don't want the Internet to replace a face-to-face conversation over the back fence, we want it to make those real connections among neighbors possible for everyone in a busy modern era where getting to know your neighbors is extremely difficult. We don't want the hyped location-based mobile technology to be viewed as the way to connect with your existing friends because you are surrounded by uninteresting strangers. We'd rather use technology to have fewer strangers starting from where you live everyday. In short, meeting your neighbors online might just be the best opportunity to connect a nation in public life and counter those intent on pulling us a apart with online partisanship and political diatribe masked as online interaction.

Special Invite - Join the Pew Internet and American Life report author in a special Q and A discussion on the Locals Online community of practice now!

January 27 2010

20:26

An Overview of Community Media in Brazil

Almost undoubtedly, Brazil is the country with the largest public investment in community arts and culture. There are dozens of groups teaching video, hip-hop, graffiti, circus arts, carnival-related arts and digital media to youth from the favelas. In Rio alone, we visited five groups doing community arts, and between them we calculated there were roughly 500 kids from favelas this year alone learning video up to a semi-professional level.

By contrast, when we started Video Volunteers in India, there were only two other groups in the country running permanent programs in community video. So the difference in Brazil, where we recently launched, was amazing and wonderful to see.

Below I've collected some of our observations about Brazil, and listed a few of the inspiring moments and facts regarding Brazil's community media that we learned during our month spent visiting the different groups. (I hope I've gotten all the facts correct, but please correct me if you see any mistakes in what I've written below; much of this information is from notes I took during fascinating discussions.)

Brazil's Commitment to Community Media

The Brazilian government is committed to supporting community arts and culture. There is a three percent tax break for corporations that support the arts, and this only applies to the arts! The government created a "points of culture" program around the country, where they have invested in 150 community arts projects to the tune of R$150,000 (around $75,000) per year, for three years. Many of the media NGOs we visited were funded in this way. The singer Gilberto Gil is currently the minister for culture and, given that he's one of the most revered celebrities in the country, this focuses citizens' attention on the importance of the arts.

It makes sense that this level of investment would be happening in Brazil and not in countries where poverty is more prevalent. One of the major societal challenges in Brazil is to keep young kids from favelas out of gangs and drugs and violence. Speaking to them in the languages they understand and love -- hip-hop, graffiti, video -- is possibly the best strategy for reaching disaffected youth.

Susan Worcman, director of the Brazil Foundation, said this is because "artistic talent in Brazil is generally very high. We have a lot of creative people." Driving around Sao Paulo seems to confirm this. The city is the graffiti capital of the world, and some artists from favelas have exhibited in major museums in Europe.

All over the city, as much in the hipster area of Villa Madelaina as in the favelas, you see incredible graffiti murals. It integrates the middle classes with the favelas in powerful ways. For instance, there was a community fresco program in Sao Paulo a few years ago, where kids from favelas worked with professional artists to create frescoes on the sides of buildings all over the city. All of the works included plaques reminding people that they were produced by slum kids.

The quality of community arts work is generally very high. Several NGO programs were started either by famous film directors (such as, Cinema Nosso which grew out of the film, City of God), TV producers (Instituto Criar in Sao Paulo, which was started by a Globo Executive) or musicians (such as Afro Reggae, which was started by a hip-hop artist).

As a result, community video work has been seen on TV, won awards, and one even resulted in a feature movie deal ("Cine Cufa," though the project may now be on hold). For us, we've put less emphasis on how artistic a community film is and focus more on how it will inspire action. But because of their quality, these Brazilian films are more marketable to the mainstream.

Photography Class at Observatorio de Favelas

The purpose of most of the community media groups we met is to empower youth to fight stereotypes about the favelas that dominate Brazilian media. One great organization we visited is the urban planning organization Observatorio de Favelas. Its very name implies changing the point of reference of who is watching whom. It is about the favelas observing the rest of the city, and this is a very different way of doing urban planning. Instead of talking about the "city center" and "periphery areas," they highlight areas of high and low public investment.

Portrayal of Favelas in the Media

It is clear after spending even a brief time in Brazil that the image presented of the favelas in the media is as sites of violence. They are never shown as the culturally and creatively rich areas they are. This creates real fear among the middle class population of Brazil.

The receptionist at our hotel begged us not to go to a certain area when we asked her for directions. Cab drivers refuse to take people to some places. The point of most of the community media we saw is to challenge the stereotypes and teach the kids to be critical of the media. (As a result, there is relatively little community media/journalism being done the way VV does it, where the purpose is to screen media back to communities.)

Arts and Culture vs. News and Information

Each country VV has worked in has a different outlook or way of using community media. In India, at least in terms of our work, media is a tool to empower people to take action; it is a tool to accelerate other social change efforts. In the U.S., the scene is much more about news and information, and how we can respond to the current crisis in journalism.

In other parts of South America, there is a very strong indigenous media scene that unites different tribes. In Brazil, the focus is definitely "community arts and culture." It's about community media as a right in itself, and as an educational tool. Most of the organizations we met were focused primarily on training, as opposed to the distribution of that content or its use.

Brazil Media Stats

We learned some interesting media and policy facts from our conversations with Flavio at Ashoka, Bia Barbosa at Intervoces, and John Prideaux, the Economist's correspondent in Brazil. Newspaper readership in Brazil is extremely low compared to other countries. TV is by far the dominant information source in the country, and nearly everyone watches only one channel, Globo.

We saw for ourselves how media-watching habits seem much more unified in Brazil. A recent and very popular "telenovela" was a drama set in India, and everyone mentioned it to us. People were coming up to my Indian partner Stalin in the subway, giving him a Namaste bow and repeating "arre baba." It's just one of the ways you see these two incredibly strong emerging markets coming together through globalization.

Ninety percent of the country is reached by terrestrial TV, thanks mainly to the efforts of Globo. Very few people have cable or satellite TV. We asked Barbosa at Intervoces if media activists and community media organizations had tried to jointly create a TV channel, given that there is such a huge amount of content produced by community media groups. She said an impediment to this is the fact that terrestrial TV is the only option.

All of Brazil media is controlled by six families/companies, and there are no limits on cross ownership of media, or on how much of the audience one company can reach. Barbosa is fighting for the introduction of these limits, because as it stands corporations are able to heavily influence public opinion. Other policy efforts undertaken by media activists include:

  • The creation of independent public TV, a la BBC, which doesn't currently exist. The government recently created an education channel, which did create more space for socially relevant media -- but it is controlled by the government.
  • The increasing of diversity on television. Barbosa said that with so many community media groups and productions, the government should make space for programming that truly reflects the diversity of the country.
  • The liberalization of Internet laws. One upcoming fight will be to allow political parties to use the Internet to gain support. What Barack Obama's did with the Internet would currently be illegal in Brazil.

There is clearly much more to learn about the movements in Brazil to reform and democratize the media, and these are just our first impressions.

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